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Theatre Review – The Boys

By Veronika Dillon on February 2, 2012 in Arts

Watching Gordon Graham’s ‘The Boys’ is like being a fly on the wall of a house that you hope you, or anyone you love, will never end up in. If you know something about the play, and most people do, you take your seat expecting the worst and the Sprague brothers don’t disappoint. By the end of the evening a dreadful crime will have been committed and Gordon Graham’s play has given us some fair suppositions as to why.

All senses are assaulted. Obscenities are spat out with lacerating venom, and beer cans (fortunately Brett, Glenn and Stevie wouldn’t be seen dead drinking out of a green bottle) are hurled viciously across the back yard, smashing into the corrugated iron fence. If you’re unlucky enough to choose the seat next to the lounge then you’re likely to feel the action as well as see it.

The ugly side of Australia is brutally shown in every detail.

Sandra, brilliantly rendered by Jeanette Cronin, wears a terry-towelling robe that looks as if it has lived a long life at the bottom of the back cupboard of a motel for the homeless, as indeed does Sandra. The Sprague back garden makes a median strip look like the Garden of Eden. The grass is dead or dying, the garden furniture consists of a broken down lounge suite and this suburban glory is lorded over by a hills hoist that at the beginning of the play rotates of its own volition clearly telling us that we are about to see forces of evil at work.

The interesting thing is we don’t. Although bad, very bad, the Sprague boys aren’t evil. Even Brett, played with frightening intensity by Josh McConville, is allowed a moment of sympathy when he cries briefly on his mother’s shoulder after recounting what life was like in prison. No excuses are made for the Sprague’s brothers’ horrendous crime but some reasons are given; it is too easy to call them evil. The telling absence of a father, or any male role model, speaks volumes. The obvious poverty doesn’t help. Stupidity, Stevie is as thick as the proverbial, plays a role. A loving mother makes the mistake of loving too much, praising the smallest action and ignoring or most damaging, laughing at the worst, reluctant to see she has no influence over her boys. Their values are as deep as those found in a two-minute advertisement for used cars, and the Sprague attitude towards women make Jack the Ripper look like a caring guy.

We never see the crime, we don’t need to, we see the cause and we see the impact.

The impact is shown clearly on the girls the boys have left behind. It is their wretched attempts to repress what they know to be the truth that provides the most telling development in the play. They are both victims and perpetrators.

That Nora, who tried so hard to extricate Glenn from his family, has no other recourse but to join the family makes her fate doubly disturbing. Whilst this is not a play that shirks the unpleasant duty of apportioning fair blame to the individual, the audience is also left with the feeling that the failures don’t belong to the individual alone, that society had a role to play, and in the case of the Sprague boys, failed dismally.

The Boys, by Gordon Graham, is on at the Griffin Theatre from January 6 to March 3.